Aesthetic Realism: A Tripartite Study
BY ELI SIEGEL
Dear Unknown Friends:
It is well at this time of year to say that a study is awaiting people—a study, I believe, which, in all its philosophic structure, is yet the equivalent of human, proud happiness. It is a great, indeed indescribable, pity that the Press have not been willing to see Aesthetic Realism as a study deserving their most respectful participation.
Yet I have seen enough, through conversations and letters, to be sure that Aesthetic Realism represents the desire of persons wherever they may be. The efficacy of Aesthetic Realism towards answering the stated and unstated questions of people is now documented. The people of these States and elsewhere are looking for Aesthetic Realism.
It seems reasonable that I describe once more what the study of Aesthetic Realism is. I have presented a definition of Aesthetic Realism in three parts. Today, I say more about these three parts. I hope their interaction—that is, the interaction of the three parts—is seen. I hope also that each of the three parts be seen as a beginning for knowledge, in coming years.
Each part can, succinctly, be put in a sentence. One, Man's greatest, deepest desire is to like the world honestly. Two, The one way to like the world honestly, not as a conquest of one's own, is to see the world as the aesthetic oneness of opposites. Three, The greatest danger or temptation of man is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not himself; which lessening is Contempt. Even more briefly, these three divisions can be described as: One, Liking the world; Two, The opposites; Three, The meaning of contempt.
1. Liking the World
Aesthetic Realism sees everyone in an interior contest between liking the world and liking self. Aesthetic Realism believes that liking the world honestly is the only authentic means of liking oneself. However, the attraction of liking oneself without caring too much for the outside world has been with people through the years; and is with people now, at a time of the year, a holiday time, when many are asked to care more for persons not themselves.
Towards the end of every year in the western world, people are asked: For whom do you really care? How much and how deeply do you care for what is not yourself? Put aside grandiloquent pretense or obscure and silent pretense, and tell yourself how much and on what basis you care for the world not yourself. The holly and the mistletoe inquire.
Despite the apparent difficulty of liking the world and the ubiquitous pretense about this, Aesthetic Realism says that the greatest, deepest desire of man—the desire of the unconscious in man—is to like the world honestly. Sex, rightly seen, is a means of liking the world. This is where Aesthetic Realism disagrees steeply and heartily with psychoanalysis. All of education should be for the honest like of the world. All the arts—the novel, poetry, music, painting, drama, architecture, dance, sculpture—have as their purpose the honest like of the world.
Liking the world of terminal disease, accidents, toothache, sluggishness, disgust, nausea, falsity, certainly is not easy. Nevertheless, the fact that the world is not liked with facility does not change at all the need of the human being to do all he can to like that world of which he is and in which he is.
So, while Aesthetic Realism does not say that quickly and smoothly one can like the world, it does say that the deepest, greatest desire of every person at every moment of that person's life is to do so. Even in our anguish, there is the desire, the deepest desire we have, to find the world something we can like, something friendly to us. Even as men have died, the desire to find friendliness, meaning, form in the world has been the large desire. This large desire to like the world is the principal thing in sex. Sex, however, is most often used to like oneself in an intense, victorious, and narrow way. Money can be used for the hurtful affirmation of the narrow self. Flattery every day is used to heighten oneself hurtfully. The present season is the great time for the interchange of hurtful flattery.
2. The Opposites
The Aesthetic Realism attitude to liking the world has been misunderstood—and altered where it was comfortable to do so. Aesthetic Realism says that no matter what is going on in our lives, our deepest, greatest desire is to find the world friendly or likable; and this desire needs, for its accomplishment, the perception of the world as the aesthetic oneness of opposites. Other like of the world is based on the fact that our horse came in or that our uncle is stupid, doesn't know us, and has bequeathed to us a lot of money, anyway. Good desire always has two victors: reality and oneself.
Art is the one large way man has seen the opposites as one. Art, then, is a beginning thing in Aesthetic Realism. Perhaps this is the loveliest question in the world: Is there anything which cannot be seen beautifully? Disease and triumph have this in common: they both can be seen beautifully. In the history of Aesthetic Realism, there has been no waving of a wand over uncomfortable or suffering people. Aesthetic Realism does say that a person can see discomfort better at one time than at another. Discomfort has the opposites in it too. Persons undergoing a great deal of physiological concern have found it useful to see their suffering and their triumph as coming from the same world.
Relevant here too is the fact that the Chopin Funeral March can give more pleasure than a rather superficial song of celebration. Iago as villain can be more satisfying than a hero who is untrue to what things are. It is useful for a person to see that beauty is the oneness of opposites. And it is useful for a person to see that no situation in life is without these opposites and without the possibility of their being seen as one. If knowledge of the opposites is adequate, this can be comforting at a time when discomfort seems to be the ruling thing.
It may well be said that there are some things in this world which cannot be endured. Aesthetic Realism will not dispute this. Still, it would be agreed that one person can endure misfortune, difficulty, injustice better than another or better than that person endured it earlier. What enables a person to endure difficulty better than another; or better than he once did?
Aesthetic Realism says that whenever a person learned how to endure difficulty better than he did once; or better, let us say, than someone else has, it is because this person has seen the opposites in that difficulty better. I hope to make this statement clearer in time. For the while, it may be said that every human state makes for a relation of opposites in one's mind.
While the opposites seen as one—particularly the opposites of world and self—can honestly lessen difficulty, these opposites persist as the central thing in all the arts. I shall mention some of these opposites, with the desire not to neglect any art.
Music is the oneness of sound as expected and unexpected; it is the oneness of the thickness and thinness of sound; it is the oneness of auditory specificity and suggestiveness, or immediacy and resonance. Painting is the oneness of color and outline, or shape and mass; of depth and surface; of stillness and motion. The novel is the oneness of self and world, impersonal and personal, objective and subjective, abstract and tangible. Poetry makes two senses one, seeing and hearing. Architecture has space and matter one.
Dance is the oneness of motion and contour, of high and low, of across and above, of sound and visual change. Drama is the oneness of conflict and propriety, of self and justice, of casualty and planning, of one's body and fate. Sculpture is the oneness of lightness and weight, meaning and matter, significance and shape, stillness and mobility.
Humor is the oneness of reality as divine and reality as inefficient; it is the seeing of the difficulties of destiny, of fate as awkward. Humor, as I have said, is the justification of God by finding release through form, from the awkwardness, ugliness, injustice of things. (A phrase like: "I've been kicked out of better places than this" has in it both triumph and submission.)
I have said much about the opposites in earlier TROs. About the world, there is—
A Fine Thing
By this I mean that a burly, specific person in red and white is at one with abstract reality; with the cause of the world, its process, and anything that can be seen as destination.
3. The Meaning of Contempt
Greater even than the temptation that sex makes for, is the temptation to use all that happens for a false increase of oneself or of one's importance. Aesthetic Realism differs from psychoanalysis and differs from other ways of seeing, when it says that contempt is the greatest danger of an individual; of society.
There is salutary contempt, however. Contempt in behalf of oneself weakens; contempt in behalf of a more likable world strengthens one.
Contempt is the one sure means people all over the world have of building themselves up. Contempt is in families, chancelleries, lodges, on pillows, in halls. It is that in man which says: "If I can make less of this and this and this, my glory is greater."
There can be no more valuable present to the people of America and the world than their being told to study contempt in themselves. The seeing of contempt and the making of it less is the greatest gift one could receive at this time, either from oneself or another. And it should be remembered that having contempt is the same as disliking the world.
4. Thought Is a Present
Therefore, Aesthetic Realism, trying to be of use, says, First, liking the world should be studied. Second, the true meaning of the opposites and of the aesthetic oneness of opposites should be studied. Third, the meaning of contempt should be studied.
I cannot at this time think of a greater present for anyone than these studies.
© Copyright 1977 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation • A not-for-profit educational foundation
Aesthetic Realism is based on these principles, stated by Eli Siegel:
1. The deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.
2. The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it .... Contempt can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.
3. All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.
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